Chief Victor Umeh
National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Victor Umeh, is presently not happy with developments in his party. And after several efforts to salvage the party, especially from his predecessor, Chief Chekwas Okorie, the tide seems not to have subsided. In this interview, Umeh opened up on the state of the party. Ayodele Opiah presents the excerpts:
Is it true you shunned a stakeholders meeting at the instance of Governor Obi?
My attention was drawn to newspaper publications, where it was reported that Governor Rochas Okorocha and I shunned the peace meeting convened at Awka on November 6, 2012. It was reported that a text message was sent to me, notifying me of the meeting, but I deliberately shunned the meeting. I wish to state unequivocally that nobody sent me any text, inviting me to any meeting at the Government House in Awka for the purpose of pursuing reconciliation in APGA. On November 2, 2012, being Friday, I travelled to London to attend the APGA UK chapter convention, scheduled to hold on November 3 in London and also to honour an invitation of Igbo Union in Oxford for Ojukwu’s birthday, where I was one of the guest speakers.
Before my departure on November 2, there was no indication that there would be a meeting where reconciliation in APGA would be discussed. Because I had planned to make this trip on November 2, I had concluded my travel plans to leave Nigeria on the 2nd of November and to return on Wednesday the 7th of November. I was therefore shocked when I returned to Nigeria and read in the papers that I was invited to a reconciliation meeting and I shunned it. Nothing can be farther from the truth.
What then informed the report?
I investigated the story and I was told that it was when I travelled to London that Governor Obi on the 3rd of November, being Saturday, sent text messages to some people, inviting them to a stakeholders meeting at Government House Awka on Tuesday November 6, 2012, by 1pm. I was also shown a text message sent to Governor Peter Obi by Chief Chris Ejike Uche, the Deputy National Chairman (South) of APGA, informing him that he should shift the meeting to Tuesday, November 13, 2012 because both I and Okorocha had travelled to London and would come back on November 8, 2012.
He went further to say that the Tuesday meeting was sudden and there was need for me and Okorocha to be in attendance in any meeting that would be held. This text message was also shown to me. But from what I have now read, I have now seen it as one of the serial blackmails being launched against me to create an impression to the discerning public that I don’t want peace in APGA.
Are you saying that the entire episode was a set-up?
If Governor Obi wanted to hold a peace meeting, is it through text message that he should invite the National Chairman of his party? It is curious that I was said to have been sent a text message instead of a letter, which any of his aides could have dropped in my house or even putting a call through to me either by himself or any of his aides that there would be a meeting that I was expected to attend. None of these happened. It was therefore, clear to me that I was not wanted in the meeting.
But why would you not be wanted at a crucial meeting?
Governor Obi did not want me to attend the meeting so that they would continue to launch this propaganda against me as being difficult. Let me say without equivocation that if there is anybody who wants peace to return to APGA, it is me, Chief Victor Umeh, the National Chairman of the party. I have never, instigated any crisis in APGA. It is, therefore, hypocritical that the people who are instigating crisis in APGA are trying to portray me as somebody who is not amenable to reconciliation.
There have been sustained recriminations on APGA crisis. Who, really, is responsible?
The present crisis ravaging APGA is being sponsored by Governor Obi since 2011. But, he had kept denying this until it came to the centre stage where he now took over. All kinds of things have been done to remove me as the National Chairman of APGA, starting from last year when they sponsored a petition against me to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in October 2011. The EFCC thoroughly investigated me, my bank account, everything I had, my transactions as an Estate Surveyor and Valuer of which I made available all the records to them. At that time, I was accused of embezzling party’s funds and living in opulence.
The EFCC, after going through records of my income as a private professional Estate Surveyor and Valuer and after justifying all that they found that I had, cleared me of any wrongdoing. The auditors appointed by the party at the convention that held at Awka last year, also audited the APGA account and returned a verdict of transparent running of party accounts. The INEC appointed auditor that audited the account of APGA for 2011 returned the same verdict of the transparent handling of the financial affairs of the party. That is why they no longer talk about my embezzling party funds.
On June 19, 2012, some people from our National Working Committee were procured to launch an attack of removing me from office. They pursued that and it failed as INEC has pushed them away with a letter affirming me as the National Chairman of APGA and particularly dismissing all the purported actions they took against me and the National Secretary. They returned to the High Court in Enugu State where they got Jankara order, stopping me from parading myself as National Chairman of APGA and boasted that within two weeks, the whole thing would be over at the Enugu State High Court.
That matter is still pending with the twists that followed the matter. They sued us at State High Court, Awka, to remove us as officers of APGA; that suit is still pending. On my return from London, I was told that another summon had been pasted at the party’s secretariat Abuja, emanating from Asaba High Court, from the same sponsors.
What prayers are they seeking in court?
In all the suits against me and sometimes with the National Secretary of the party and sometimes with other national officers of the party, the sole issue that they have been canvassing is that there was no convention that elected me as the National Chairman of APGA and also the other officers of the party. But Nigerians know that on the February 10, 2011, at Awka, APGA held a national convention where all the national officers were elected for another four years. At that same convention, APGA adopted President Goodluck Jonathan as our presidential candidate.
That convention was monitored by INEC with a report approving the convention and election of new officers of the party. The INEC report is also available and it has been tendered in court. That same convention was attended by Governor Obi, Bianca Ojukwu, Dr. Menakaya. All the people who are now launching attack against the elected leadership of the party were at that convention, but what they are claiming now is that there was no secret ballot in electing us from that election as enshrined in the party’s constitution.
You do secret ballot when two people are contending for one position. The officers of the party were elected unopposed at the convention. Therefore, there was no need for secret ballot. They are also claiming that we ought to have resigned from office at least two months before the election. Our constitution provides that an officer is eligible for re-election for another four-year term, but if anybody wants to contest for another office, that person will be required to resign from his present office, two months before the convention. In other words, if the National Secretary wants to run for the office of National Chairman, he will resign as National Secretary to be able to contest as National Chairman at the convention. These were the issues.
How about allegations of incompetence?
The war against me is that I am incompetent simply because I told Obi to conduct local government election in Anambra State. At this time when the world celebrates democracy, somebody is trying to suppress democratic culture and trying to divert the attention of the public. It is just because I said, conduct local government election so that local government system will be democratised in Anambra State. For so many reasons, they started fighting this war of blackmail and removal from office till date. I have spoken about this before and it concludes the issue of governorship of Anambra State that is coming up in 2014, where Obi wants to anoint somebody without consultation with the party.
These are the problems generated that heated the crisis in the party. Instead of addressing these simple issues, he is still chasing wind and this time around, the effort is to tarnish my image and project me to Nigerians as somebody who doesn’t want peace in APGA.
Are you worried that they probably would get around their game?
I have not seen anything they can do to achieve their wild goose chase in dismantling the leadership of the party because they were part of creating the leadership of the party. And I have never as Chairman of APGA worked against the party or any member in any manner whatsoever. Instead, I have devoted my energy in building this party. In 2011, because of our desire to get this party going, I reduced myself to a local government party agent in the Governorship election in Imo State to ensure that APGA succeeded.
In all these, I had prepared a position paper on how to rebuild APGA after the end of seven years of litigation with Chekwas Okorie, which I gave to Obi. I gave to Bianca Ojukwu; I gave to Menakaya. All the suggestions that I made on how to rebuild APGA, including the reconstitution of the BOT, are there with them. Because of the war mounted by Okorie it was impossible to constitute the board. All efforts by our late leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, to reconstitute it failed because people failed to join.